From Sochi to Qatar: Anti-Gay Laws & The West’s Selective Scrutiny

The  2014 Winter Olympic Games in the city of Sochi in Russia were marked by a combination of both immense expectation and intense controversy. Issues such as national security and the State’s use of migrant workers were hot on the agenda in the run-up to the games, however perhaps nothing attracted more attention then the nation’s negative stance on
homosexuality, which was recently re-inforced by the passing of an Anti-gay propaganda bill in Aug 2013 . Upon its enaction, A number of Western Governments publicly condemned the bill and Google_Doodle_2814646bwestern corporations also joined in the debate, with large multi-nationals such as Coca-Cola and Google producing advertisements aimed at rebuking Russia for its laws.  Whilst the condemnation of Russia’s Anti-Gay legislation was certainly justifiable, have Western Governments and Corporations demonstrated a selective approach to criticizing the treatment of homosexuals in different countries across the globe, particularly where economic interests are at stake?
 
Qatar
 

As the dust settles on the spectacle of Sochi and Brazil goes into overdrive for its preparations in the build up to this year’s Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, the spotlight is now beginning to shine on another nation which has its sights firmly set on international glory for 2022. This nation is the Arab Emirate of Qatar, which has embarked on a policy of aggressive expansion and rapid infrastructural development in the run up to the olympic games. Qatar, one of the wealthiest states per capita in the world, is so far estimated to have invested a staggering ($)200bn into construction and infrastructure projects for the event and whilst it is without doubt that a large part of this capital has been raised by profits from the countries main export commodities, gas and oil, the nation’s finances have also been been bolstered in recent years by a multitude of investments into several Western nations and corporations . Qatari investments in the West have not been entirely one sided however; many  western nations and corporations have also sought to improve relations and increase trade with Qatar with the nations low rates of tax being a major pull factor.  The reciprocal investments between Qatar and the West have increased dramtically in recent years and it is predictied that they will increase yet further in the years leading up to 2022, as states and corporations seek to cash-in on the revenue sure to be generated by the first World Cup to be held in the Arab World.

 cameron Qatar
Whilst Qatar, A strict Islamic State, has indicated that it is planning to make some concessions for Western tourists during the World Cup,  the government has so far not provided any indications that it will relax the strict laws relating to homosexuality which are in place within the country. In Qatar, Homosexuals do not enjoy any measure of equality with other citizens under the law and Homosexual acts between men are expressly criminalized in the Qatari Penal Code, which sets out a punishment of up to 15 years imprisonment for certain offenses. In addition to sanctions set out in the Qatari Penal Code,  Sharia Law continues to be one of the main sources of legislation in Qatar and although there are no known cases to date, consensual sexual relations between men can, by law, incur the death penalty in the country. Despite Qatar’s  manifestly adverse stance towards homosexuality and the harsh treatment that homosexuals are reported to suffer there there has to date, been  no similar criticism of Qatar by Western Governments or corporations who continue to do business with the nation on a regular basis.
 
Uganda
 

It is not just the opression of homosexuals in Qatar which seems to have evaded the criticism of many Western Governments and corporations however.  Recently, Google announced that it would be investing a reported ($)14 million into the East-African State of Uganda in efforts to capitalize on increasing internet usage within the country . Whilst this announcement has been praised by some as a means of promoting growth through enhancing the technological capabilities of the nation, for many, there has nevertheless been dissapointment that Google, who took such an active stand against the mistreatment of homosexuals in Russia, seem to have been entirely reticent on the grave repression of homosexuals within Uganda.  On the 24 February 2014, Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni gave assent to what is termed the  ‘Anti-Homosexuality Act’ Uganda president signs anti-gay bill into lawThe stated purpose of this act is to “prohibit any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex; prohibit the promotion or recognition of such relations and to provide for other related matters.”Whilst Provisions proscribing the death penalty for certain homosexual offences were dropped from the Bill just prior to its enactment,  the legislation nevertheless imposes a 14 year prison sentence for homosexual acts and a life sentence for anyone found guilty of what is termed “aggravated homosexuality.”  Upon its enactment the law caused a storm of controversy with several organizations and prominent figures issuing statements excoriating the Ugandan legislative for passing it, however there has to date  been no official response to the legislation from Google, who continue to push ahead with investment plans within the nation.

 
Ethiopia
 

In addition to Google’s investments in Uganda, The Coca-Cola Company have recently sought to increase trade with Ethiopia and have made a ($)20 million investment into a new glass bottling factory in one of the nation’s most rural regions. LGBT rights in Ethiopia are notoriously scarce and Like in Qatar and Uganda, homosexual Acts are expressly criminalised under Ethiopian Law. At a national conference in June 2012, a host of Ethiopian government officials,  civil representatives and religious leaders congregated to formally declare their opposition to LGBT rights and reportedly  condemned homosexuality as a “Western epidemic”. Despite Ethiopia’s stance on homosexuality, Coca Cola have issued no statements nor produced any similar advertisements aimed at criticizing the the nation.

coke invest ethiopia
The examples above illustrate that whilst many Western countries and corporations took the seemingly bold step of openly criticizing state endorsed homophobia at the time of the olympic games in Russia , their approach to critizing the opprobious treatment of homosexuals in other countries around the globe has been largely inconsistent and appears to be highly selective,  with some nations receiving a large degree of criticism and others seeming to escape reproach altogether. Whilst there may be other reasons for this selective approach, at least in the cases presented, it seems closely linked to Economics and a desire not to appear hypocritical by drawing attention to the homophobia deeply entrenched in countries where some Western nations and corporations are currently profiting, or stand to profit from large amounts of trade and investment. A recent report by the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) illustrates that in addition to Russia, there are 75 countries across the Globe where Homosexual Acts are illegal and many of these nations are regular trading partners and have close ties with Western nations and corporations. Perhaps Sochi was  only a prelude to states and corporations taking a more pro-active stance against  homophobia globally, however whilst repressive laws and abuses still continue to go unaddressed and uncritisized in a number of countries with which Western States and corporations do business, the controversy surrounding Sochi seems increasingly to have been rather more about politics then principles.

 

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